The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 18-03-2023 | 12:45 pm
One morning in July 1948, a group of women convened somewhere in the quaint riverside town of Tezpur in central Assam. They met often but the outcome of this meeting was unlike any other: a stream of angry letters to the editor, a fair amount of name-calling, and fodder for a long-running joke among the townsfolk. An idea this crazy could come only from Tezpur, someone had said, alluding to the town being home to one of the country’s oldest mental asylums.The cause of this flutter? The ladies had proposed that families in Assam adopt “fixed mealtimes” in order to enable “women’s leisure”.“Women have to keep themselves busy with kitchen work all day long and as such are not free to join any activities outside the domestic sphere…in order to…take their part in cultural activities they must have sufficient leisure”, the resolution [in Assamese] stated. Making a case for lunch by 12 PM and dinner by 10 PM for towns across Assam, it asked for “public cooperation”, and added: “No meal should be served after one hour of the proposed time.”The resolution was reproduced in several Assamese dailies, as well as The Assam Tribune, the state’s oldest circulating English language newspaper. Public outrage followed.“What is the duty of a wife towards such a husband who toiled the whole day in scorching sun… Is it her duty to stop his meals when his belly is burning of hunger? Is it her duty to go for social work when he needs someone dearer and nearer to share his exhaustion… and invigorate his losing spirit and energy?” wrote a particularly angry gentleman from Guwahati in his letter to the editor. Another dismissed it as “occasional entertainment”. He added: “No amount of participation in cultural activities would be able to compensate a woman for the loss of happiness at home.”It is unlikely that the Tezpur resolution was implemented, but 75 years later it stands out as among the many examples of quiet rebellion that make up the storied history of the Tezpur Mahila Samiti, one among the few pre-independence ‘women’s collectives’ that had sprung up in towns across Assam.For the last two years, Northeast Lightbox, a Guwahati-based non-profit collective, has been creating a digital database of the Tezpur Samiti, documenting testimonials, official records, publications, meeting minutes and photographs, spanning over a period of a hundred years.For three days in March, the non-profit, supported by the Indian Association for Women’s Studies, and Tezpur University, is putting the collection up on display in the nearly 72-year-old Assam-type office of Mahila Samiti in an exhibition titled ‘Sisters of Tezpur’.“Whether it was during the Indo-China war, or the Tibetan refugee crisis, women here in Tezpur sacrificed and did outstanding work. But we never hear of them in mainstream discourses,” said Northeast Lightbox’s Anidrita Saikia. “By expanding beyond chronicles of politics and events, our project explores narratives of localised feminist history, often overlooked in the mainstream discourses of the regional past.”Fighting patriarchy at homeTo this day, mahila samitis across Assam — both district and village level, numbering at least a thousand — make up a rich part of the state’s women’s movement.But in the early 1900s, they came up one by one (Dibrugarh in 1907, Sivasagar in 1916, Nagaon in 1917, Tezpur in 1918) in urban centres across Assam, before the apex Assam Mahila Samiti was formed in 1926, with firebrand feminist leader Chandraprabha Saikiani as its founding secretary. It went on to become, in the words of famous freedom fighter and politician Sucheta Kripalani, the “largest democratic women’s association in India by 1949”.Formed largely in response to Mahatma Gandhi’s call for women to participate in the freedom struggle, the samitis forayed into the national movement with activities related to weaving, handloom and the spinning of khadi. But soon, argues Dr Hemjyoti Medhi, Associate Professor at Tezpur University, they emerged as “independent movements articulating their own separate agendas”.Apart from fixed mealtimes by the Tezpur Samiti, the Assam Mahila Samiti, served a legal notice (citing the Child Marriage Restraint Act or the Sarda Act as it was popularly known in 1929) to a groom in 1934 for marrying a 12-year-old. Later in 1948, the members tried to enter the kirtan ghar (prayer hall) of the Barpeta Satra, which bars the entry of women even today. “So while most would remember the samitis within the framework of the national movement, they actually go beyond it. Instead of [just] fighting the colonial authority, they were fighting patriarchy at home,” Medhi said.Meenakshi Bhuyan, a resident of Tezpur and member of the Tezpur Samiti since she was a teen, said most of these examples can be found in newspaper clippings and preserved meeting minutes — which form a section of the Northeast Lightbox exhibition. “At the end of every meeting, the women would pass a resolution, which would be forwarded to the government,” she said. Bhuyan, now 80, says she was “shocked” when she came across the clipping about the “fixed lunch and dinner hours” in her mother’s (also an active member of the committee in the 1940s) cupboard. “Fixed meal times, free and compulsory education for girls, questions about why women are relegated to certain kinds of jobs (nurses and teachers) were things they discussed. Imagine in the 1940s…they were truly ahead of the times,” she said.Take for instance, a meeting from August 26, 1928, minutes of which state: “Out of all the speeches, the poetry presentation by Devyani Devi was a remarkable one. Despite the fact of her incomplete elementary education, the poem was incredibly mature and was praised in unison. This sends a message to all women who are illiterate that more than formal education, will and passion are crucial in channelling one’s expression.” According to Medhi, it is instances like these that illustrate how the Samiti “accelerated” women’s foray into the public sphere. “Middle class women came out mostly during Gandhian mobilisation of the Indian nationalist movement. And mahila samitis accelerated the process by extending this participation from politics to other spheres of public life such as cultural performances, participation in literary society meetings, public speaking, among other things,” she said.1959: To the aid of the Tibetan refugeesPerhaps it was around the 1962 Indo-China War, as Chinese troops reached Bomdila, about 150 km away from Tezpur that the Tezpur Samiti did its most defining work.In 1959, as India gave asylum to the Dalai Lama, Tibetan refugees flowed in. From stitching clothes for the refugees to raising funds and mobilising volunteers, old timers remember the Samiti giving their “heart and soul” to the refugees.Just before the war, the women of Tezpur also underwent voluntary military training by the Indian Home Guard: an enduring image from the time — also a part of the Lightbox exhibit — shows women in their traditional mekhela sadors, many of the members of the Samiti, holding rifles.Bhuyan recalled that the work did not end even after a ceasefire was declared in 1962, “After the war, the Samiti sprang back to action… members visited the war-affected areas in of Rupa, Bomdila, Sessa in Arunachal Pradesh (the North-East Frontier Agency) and set up schools and anganwadis,” she said. In 1964, the Samiti raised Rs 14,000 (by no means a small sum) and donated it to the Prime Minister National Defence Fund.Since the 1980s, the samiti’s work has been focused on income generation to address inequality among women. “Programmes were held to train women in agriculture, dairy, weaving, sericulture… but alongside they would also hold sensitisation programmes on domestic violence and women’s rights,” said Dr Monisha Behal, a social worker and women’s rights activist, who was associated with the Samiti in the 1980s.Till today, it continues to focus on such initiatives: weaving, small saving schemes, assistance in domestic violence cases. Medhi pointed out that while the Samiti had gone through some periods of lull, it has sustained itself through the years. Exhibitions like these make for crucial interventions. “Going back to documents is very important… it reminds us of radical or subversive moments by these women, which would have otherwise been forgotten,” she said.‘Sisters of Tezpur’ is open to the public from March 16 to 18 at the Tezpur Mahila Samiti premises in Tezpur, Assam
With the inauguration of its permanent campus by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 12, IIT Dharwad, which started in 2016, is in the process of shifting out of its temporary campus in a phased manner. The institute’s director Venkappayya R Desai speaks to The Indian Express about his priorities with the new institute, changing academic landscapes, interdisciplinary courses, and the suicide cases at the IITs. Excerpts:Q. What are your priorities as IIT Dharwad director?Our top priority is to clear the major bottlenecks in the permanent campus. One is the main electrical station, along with the kitchen equipment for the student dining hall.We also need to get the sewage treatment plant ready, so that we are in a position to move. However, we will move in a gradual manner because we have a lot of sophisticated equipment which cannot straightway be moved from here (current campus) to the permanent campus.Secondly, we want to ensure that students and faculty are properly housed. Academically, we have seven Bachelor in Technology (BTech) programmes, one BS (Bachelor of Science) and MS (Master of Science) dual degree programme, alongside Masters in Technology (MTech) and Phd programmes.We want to introduce a BTech programme in the humanities and social sciences department as it does not have one on its own. The other nine departments have the programme in some way or the other. We are also deliberating on introducing economics probability, financial engineering, among other subjects, to make the BS and MS integrated programmes more inclusive.Additionally, we are also looking to link modern science and technology with traditional technology. We want to use historical materials from Sanskrit literature and classical Indian languages and apply it to modern science, for all branches. Even the new education policy emphasises on promoting Indian languages.Q. IIT Dharwad is among the youngest IITs in the country. Six months have passed since your appointment as the institute’s director. What milestones, in your opinion, has it achieved? What needs to be worked on?Recently, IIT Dharwad got formally announced as the Quality Improvement Programme (QIP) centre, giving scope for government, government-aided and private engineering college faculty members to enroll and improve their quality through enhancement of qualifications.The engineering college faculty members with bachelor qualifications can enroll and get a masters degree through QIP. In addition to the regular salary these faculty members get from their host institutions, they will also get subsistence allowance as these are time-bound programmes.Meanwhile, we have only one MTech programme in mechanical engineering. We need to extend this to two more departments — electrical engineering and computer science. Our priority is to serve our full capacity of 25 masters seats under QIP. Since it is a new IIT, the number of professors are less in number. We have 70 professors (including assistant professors) and around 15 visiting professors. However, the sanctioned faculty strength is 100 with a student teacher ratio of 1:10.Q. IIT Dharwad was mentored by IIT Bombay for its three batches so far. Each IIT has a unique academic culture and strengths. What do you think you have imbibed from them?IIT Bombay is the second-oldest IIT and is located in the financial capital of the country. As a result, every faculty member’s time is very precious. Things are simple and straightforward in IIT Bombay. The institute also helps us in senate meetings because we have very few full-time professors. During senate meetings, we need help from external senate members from IIT Bombay and industry experts too. We also take help from IIT Bombay professors from relevant departments in shortlisting our faculty applicants.Q. There have been many suicides in IITs in the last six months. Do you think IITs need to revisit their support systems and improve them to help prevent such deaths?Caste discrimination is a very general problem. We should make students aware of other children who are more economically and socially challenged. When we make them aware of the existing reality, the students will realise that they can still put up a smiling face and be positive compared to those children who are both economically and socially weaker. Moreover, faculty should also play a major role in enhancing student welfare activities.When Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated our new permanent campus, he suggested that we use Japanese technology to increase vegetation density around the campus. The vegetation will be planted in lines of vruksha nakshatra that will imbibe Indian traditional values and serve as a stress buster to students. If you look at the life of the student two weeks prior to the suicide, you will find them isolating from the near and dear ones. As a result, they come across negative incidents, news reports and end up in suicidal thoughts. It is equally important to have good food. Being more social will also help students. Unfortunately, some marginalised students are isolated in the initial few weeks in the dining hall sometimes – this happens across all IITs.Sometimes, ragging also is a major problem. Fortunately, at IIT Dharwad we have not come across such cases.Q. A research paper published by IIT Bombay recently found that except for Computer Science & Engineering (CSE), and to some extent for Electrical Engineering (EE), IIT Bombay students have predominantly opted for non-engineering jobs. What do you think is the reason?Things are no longer in silos. I am a civil engineer by qualification, but I have my own interest in linguistic subjects. These kind of things happen with everyone and there is nothing wrong with that. We can’t force students to take up jobs as per their qualifications. I believe in the principle of “get what you like and like what you get”. Life is all about making feasible compromises. In addition to their programmes, students should explore various opportunities in areas of one’s interest. Sometimes, their interests are partially misguided by parents also.Q. There have been consultations within the government to bring institutes of national importance within the ambit of the proposed Higher Education Commission of India. Would it be a good idea to bring IITs and IIMs within the HECI’s ambit?It is a good idea. IITs, NITs are excluded from the purview of AICTE. A newly established institution like IIT Dharwad will be deprived of the positive experience of some of the selected institutes which have a history of over 50 or 75 years. There should be good exchange of ideas and best practices. Hence, it is a welcome move to bring institutes of national importance under a regulatory purview.Q. Interdisciplinarity is among the main focus of the new education policy. How is IIT Dharwad approaching this?We have a 5 year BS-MS interdisciplinary programme. Students can either choose physics/ chemistry or mathematics/biology specialisations. There are enough electives offered by other departments like humanities and social sciences, philosophy, sociology and others.Q. Are you worried about ChatGPT and its impact on academics?I am hearing that ChatGPT will soon make Google extinct, but I think any new innovation cannot be exclusive. We need not get worried excessively because every technology evolves with time. It cannot be 100 per cent accurate and efficient. Any new thing is high on technology but low in experience. Any old thing may be low on technology. However, it is definitely tested by time.Q. Education faced a huge disruption during the pandemic. It has been over a year since students have joined physical classes. Have you noticed any changes in the learning patterns?Students are still in the pandemic or lockdown mode. Our faculty members noticed that some students are not at all seen in the campus. They have registered and are nowhere to be seen. It is high time that we as faculty bring the students back to the pre-pandemic levels. It is fine if they are taking up internships, but they should take an official permission so that it is formalised. The learning ability has taken a beating. Lab courses and experiments go on through video demonstrations. The hands-on experience in lab experiments has actually stopped after the pandemic. It is an individual and collective responsibility of every faculty member to restore the learning experience.
Israel has been seeing an intense and large-scale people’s resistance for the last three months over the issue of how independent the judiciary should remain in a democracy. Lakhs of Israelis have been protesting against the Netanyahu government every week in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and in over a hundred other cities. Israel is a small country with just nine million (90 lakh) people – yet, it is experiencing one of the most well-sustained and peacefully-organised protests in the name of democracy in recent memory. The issue of judicial reform concerns not only the political class but also much broader sections of society. Independent women’s organisations, academicians and universities, lawyers, doctors, industrialists, and entrepreneurs, tech companies, intelligence and national security heads, soldiers and high-ranking officials of the Israeli army have all taken part in debating whether Israel’s democracy is threatened by legal excesses or political intrusions into the judicial system. This debate is relevant to India, too.Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed the government with a clear majority in December last year and in the very first month of the new administration, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, introduced a judicial reform bill in parliament. The bill proposed to balance the power between the executive and judiciary so that the democratically-elected government is not constrained by the courts. People’s will would be expressed through the elected legislature and courts would not intervene in law-making by striking down laws passed by the legislature. The most contentious element of the reform would overhaul the selection committee which appoints judges — the existing system has a nine-member committee made up of judges, ministers, and members of the bar association. Netanyahu’s legal team proposed a new committee, that would give more powers to the government in selecting the judges. The key thrust of the reform is that judges shall not appoint judges.Keeping in mind the inevitable political as well as legal resistance to the proposed bill, the government chose “shock and awe” — a military strategy with no room for moderation, debate or discussion — and moved it in the legislature with breakneck speed. Netanyahu had a very strong base and the government was confident that it could do a historical realignment of the wheels of state, restructuring the political system, as Israel marks its 75th anniversary this year.The major bill regarding the appointment of judges was to pass on March 27. Netanyahu had weathered the protests for over three months while his traditional allies in the Israeli security establishment and industries and even staunch supporters in the US asked for negotiation with the opposition. The tipping point was when he fired his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, who had called for an immediate halt to the judicial bill in a national address. Netanyahu was seen by many as risking national security and Gallant emerged as a national hero. What followed was an unprecedented and spontaneous protest in support of the former defence minister and a nationwide strike by the national labour union (Histadrut), which shut down Israel’s only international airport within hours.For a full day, Israel was on the edge and Netanyahu had to suspend the reform bill till this summer. There is supposed to be a dialogue and debate over the contentious bill until then. The opposition parties have agreed to talk, while the protesting groups will continue with the weekly public protests since the bill has not been nixed, merely suspended for some time. Israelis are about to celebrate Pesach (Passover) and Independence Day in April. The chags (celebrations) this time will see lavish Mediterranean food coupled with more protests, songs of resistance and civil society mobilisation. There is a much bigger worry for many in the country beyond the fate of judicial reforms — the political and socio-cultural divide among the Jews of Israel: Religious and secular Jews or conservative and reform-minded communities have grown too far apart — some days ago, President Isaac Herzog said that the “abyss” of civil war was “within touching distance”.The last three months of internal upheaval have brought Israel to a diplomatic standstill. Its relations with the US are under tremendous stress due to failing democratic values and irresponsible unilateral policies with regard to the Palestinians. Friendly Arab states like Jordan, Egypt and the UAE have been concerned about the escalation of violence in the Palestinian territories, combined with some excessive statements by ministers in the Netanyahu government against Palestinians. Israel is not going to be in a position to attend to any of these pressing foreign policy matters, if its house is not in order.The writer is associate professor & director, Jindal Centre for Israel Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University
IT’S NOT just the Jio Institute, the greenfield venture, which is waiting to get Institution Of Eminence (IOE) status. In the same queue are three other private institutions — Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT), Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham — which were selected for the flagship initiative in higher education.According to records and interviews with officials, the readiness reports of the three institutions were approved by the Education ministry’s Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) on IOEs by July 2020. Nearly three years on, all three are waiting for the final MoUs to be signed.Former EEC chairman N Gopalaswami said the final MoUs for the three institutions, along with Jio Institute, were vetted and approved by the committee under him before its term expired in February 2021. The KIIT has since been waiting to get the IOE status for 1,121 days and counting; and, VIT and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham for 976 days each.Records show that another private institution on the list, Jamia Hamdard, may not get the IOE tag at all due to a legal dispute, while Bharti Foundation — the second greenfield selection apart from Jio — pulled out of the process due to lack of “appropriate land”.KIIT: Records show that a 13-member expert committee set up by the EEC visited KIIT in Odisha’s Bhubaneswar on February 17-18, 2020. By July 2020, the EEC approved the readiness report submitted by the 13-member panel led by AICTE vice chairman M P Poonia.According to KIIT’s IOE coordinator Professor C K Panigrahi, the institute submitted a draft MoU to the ministry about two years ago and hasn’t received an update since.VIT: A 12-member committee led by Prof G D Yadav of Institute of Chemical Technology conducted a virtual inspection of VIT on July 13-14, 2020 and the EEC approved the readiness report.“The final version of the draft MoU was submitted to the government in November 2021. Following that we contacted the ministry several times. However, there has been no communication from the government. (We were) told verbally that the MoU will be signed after the reconstitution of the EEC,” a VIT official said.Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham: A virtual review was conducted by a 16-member committee led by Mahesh Verma, V-C of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in Delhi, on July 17-18, 2020 and the EEC approved the readiness report.According to Vidyapeetham’s IOE coordinator Prof Raghu Raman, the deemed university has written multiple times to the government since July 2020, asking for updates and “next steps”.Jamia Hamdard: In September 2020, the EEC recommended the removal of Jamia Hamdard from the list. The minutes of an EEC meeting on September 16, 2020, state: “The EEC selected the composite entity Jamia Hamdard consisting of medical college and university, but… the composite unit is no longer a valid entity after the family settlement approved by the SC, as the management has gone to two different bodies…”Jamia Hamdard’s V-C Prof Mohammad Afshar Alam said, “After taking charge in 2019, I took permission from our sponsoring trust and wrote to the UGC and Education ministry, requesting a visit of the expert committee to our campus. I haven’t heard from the government since.”Bharti Foundation: The other greenfield selection, apart from Jio, Bharti Foundation, withdrew its bid in October 2020 after it failed to acquire “an appropriate land parcel” in Mohali, Punjab. However, the Foundation said that it has now signed an MoU with Plaksha University in Mohali.Records show that apart from these private institutions, the fate of two — Jadavpur University in West Bengal and Anna University in Tamil Nadu — of the eight public universities on the IOE list is similar.In September 2020, the EEC recommended the removal of Jadavpur University, along with Jamia Hamdard, from the list of IOEs. Jadavpur’s bid was rejected since the West Bengal government did not commit to paying part of the plan requirements not met by the Centre.The university then submitted a revised plan with a reduced budget of Rs 606 crore, of which it proposed to raise 25 per cent. In June 2020, the Education ministry wrote to the UGC seeking the EEC’s advice on the revised budget.In an email dated September 15, 2020, the EEC stated: “The EEC is of view that… the substantial budget cut is not conducive to realising the target set for IOEs. The EEC therefore recommends to the UGC to release Jadavpur University from the list…”On July 19, 2021, the UGC forwarded this recommendation to the ministry and there has been no communication since.“We earnestly hope that the Central government will recognise the academic excellence of Jadavpur as acknowledged by the empowered committee,” Jadavpur University V-C Dr Suranjan Das said.As for Anna University, records show the Chennai-based institution’s original IOE plan was affected by lack of funding from the Tamil Nadu government, leading the university to submit a revised proposal relying on its own resources. The revised plan was approved by the EEC on the condition that the state will provide an assurance to cover any shortfall. The university, however, is yet to receive an official word from the government.“Ever since I assumed charge (in August 2021), we haven’t received any communication from the government… If we get that (IOE status), it will be a good thing and we won’t have to chase every small accreditation to prove our excellence,” Anna University V-C Dr R Velraj said.
WHILE four private institutions remain stranded on a thorny path to get the coveted status of Institution of Eminence (IOE) despite getting the all-clear from the Government’s empowered committee, it’s not exactly been a bed of roses for the other four that made the cut.On paper, these private IOEs, who don’t get any funds under the scheme unlike Government institutions, are assured of autonomy and significant regulatory relief. But in practice, they continue to be weighed down by red tape and regulatory interference, an investigation by The Indian Express, based on official records, visits to campuses across the country and interviews with several university personnel and Government officials, has revealed.Only four of the 10 private higher education institutions selected for the IOE status have received official recognition to date: Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), BITS Pilani, OP Jindal Global University and Shiv Nadar University. Of these, Shiv Nadar is the youngest IOE, having received the status just last year.The Indian Express found that the three oldest private IOEs on many occasions had asserted their autonomy under the scheme but eventually had to toe the regulatory line.The Centre’s track record on assuring autonomy for the private IOEs is significant given that it is planning to roll out similar freedoms to foreign universities on academic, administrative and financial matters to attract them to India.Multiplicity of regulatorsFor private IOEs, the road to achieving world-class status is riddled with multiple higher education regulators.Although IOE regulations promise autonomy from the University Grants Commission, there are over 15 bodies regulating the higher education space in the country. Private IOEs say this works against multidisciplinary institutions, as they continue to face red tape, delays, and compliance demands from various regulators such as the National Medical Commission, Bar Council of India, Architecture Council of India, Nursing Council, and more.For instance, the autonomy to fix fees and decide admission procedures has been meaningless for MAHE, which also runs a medical college. The National Medical Commission insists that all medical students are admitted only through NEET, which is difficult for international students to crack. MAHE, The Indian Express learned, requested an exemption from NEET for international students, but their request was turned down.Last February, MAHE requested exclusion from NMC’s directive to charge fees equivalent to government medical colleges for half of their total approved capacity. In its letter, the institute reiterated its eminent status. However, NMC rejected the request.Private IOEs have raised concerns about the multiplicity of regulators to the government. OP Jindal Global University made a presentation in 2020 to the then Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank on the imperatives of autonomy. While the university can start new programmes and schools with just an intimation to UGC, it has to comply with the Bar Council of India’s regulations for law programmes.The presentation highlighted the need for IoEs to be autonomous and exempted from regulation by all professional bodies or councils to achieve world-class standards in all higher education disciplines.MAHE, too, confirmed that it flagged the issue to review committees sent by the Education Ministry, stating that “freedom from multiple regulators” is necessary to achieve the goals of the IOE scheme.Although BITS Pilani hasn’t written to the government on this issue yet, the university, in its response to this newspaper, said, “Bringing all regulatory bodies under one umbrella would bring uniformity and consistency in the process, making it convenient for good institutes to perform better.”UGC interferenceDespite their special status, private IOEs have found it challenging to deal with the University Grants Commission (UGC).“The private institutes are not entitled to funds like the government IOEs are. So we applied (for the IOE status) for the promise of autonomy. But we keep getting letters from UGC regarding compliances and we are expected to fall in line,” said an officer at one of the four private IOEs.Even on an issue as trivial as the name of a department, red tape kicks in. BITS Pilani’s research cell is currently called sponsored research and consultancy division, but UGC wants BITS to rename it “research development cell.” MAHE, which has already established a Directorate of Research, had received a similar letter from UGC.The UGC, sources said, had also objected to the BITS dual degree programme which allows candidates pursuing a Master’s to also pursue a bachelor’s degree. “UGC felt this was not right,” said an officer of the institute.In 2021 and last year, the UGC got all three private IOEs to refund the fee of all students who either cancelled or withdrew their admission within October 31, leading to several last-minute vacancies that could not be filled afterwards.The UGC order led to about 300 vacancies at BITS Pilani last year. “Refunding fees of students who have already spent a few months studying with an institute means those seats will remain vacant for the next four years. This is a huge revenue loss for us. We are as good as any IIT in the country. They don’t face any such interference from regulators” said an officer of BITS Pilani.In an emailed statement, BITS Pilani said, “All cases of fee refund are being dealt with in accordance with the UGC directives and as per the declared policy of the institute. It would be much easier for us to perform better if admissions related to full autonomy (including fees refund in Admissions processes) is offered to the institutes such as BITS Pilani.”OP Jindal University tried to assert its autonomy under the IOE rules that permit institutions to determine fee and admission policy, they ultimately had to refund the fee.JGU wrote in an emailed statement that “… (despite) following the UGC – (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulations 2017 (UGC – IoE Regulations 2017) and the subsequent amendments of 2021 diligently, we are still constrained to follow the UGC policies related to Fees and Refunds. Considering the aforementioned facts, we had written to the Ministry of Education requesting their guidance to fulfil the objective of creating an enabling regulatory architecture for the Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities and ranked among the world’s top institutions.”MAHE, too confirmed vacancies on account of the UGC institutions. “With interest of students, MAHE did not fill those vacant seats for the year 2022 as well 2021,” the university said in its response to The Indian Express.Red tape on foreign facultyEven as the government expects the IOEs to hire more foreign teachers to boost their performance in international rankings, for the private IOEs, the litany of permissions required to finalise an appointment is a hindrance.For one, the delay in processing work visa applications for foreign teachers often acts as a disincentive. Moreover, visas are usually issued for a year and, only in rare cases for two years. “If we want to attract foreign faculty then we should be able to offer long-term employment. The obligation of renewing work visas annually is a disincentive,” said an officer at a private IOE.The delay in getting Aadhaar number for foreign nationals working in India is another irritant as it delays their PF withdrawal. “As institutions, we try to assist them but there’s nothing we can do to expedite this process or cut red tape,” said another officer of a private IOE.Both MAHE and Jindal have requested the easing of norms for foreign faculty. A spokesperson for OP Jindal University confirmed that the university has suggested to the Government a ‘Specially Expedited Institutions of Eminence Multiple Entry Employment Visa Scheme for International Faculty’. Under this, IOEs should get “preferential treatment in all Government-related approvals and visa processes to enable them to implement their faculty hiring plans in good time,” the spokesperson said. MAHE has called for easing of norms with respect to salary and benefits to international faculty.
India’s political system is veering towards a full-blown tyranny. The targeting of Opposition leaders leading to the farcical disqualification of Rahul Gandhi, the hounding of civil society and research organisations, censorship of information, the suppression of protest, are harbingers of a full-blown system of rule where all the interlocking parts add up to the one objective of tyrannical rule: To create pervasive fear.These actions are alarming, not because this or that leader has been targeted. They are alarming because the current BJP government is signaling not just that it will not tolerate the Opposition. It will not, under any circumstances, even contemplate or allow a smooth transition of power. For, what these actions reveal is a ruthless lust for power, combined with a determination to use any means to secure it. Neither the form of power the BJP seeks, nor the ends they deploy to achieve it, knows any constraints or bounds. That is the quintessential hallmark of tyranny.In a democracy, a smooth transition of power in a fair election requires several conditions. The ruthless crushing of the Opposition and the squelching of liberty erodes these conditions. The first is that professional politicians treat each other as members of the same profession, not as existential enemies to be vanquished by any means. Once a regime does that to its opponents, it fears the consequences of losing power. It can no longer rest in the comfortable belief that democracy is a game of rotating power; transitions should be routine. Can you now imagine Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Amit Shah or their minions calmly contemplating the prospect that they could ever be in the Opposition, after the hubris they have deployed against opponents and critics? The hallmark of tyrants is impunity in power and therefore an existential fear of losing it.The issue is not whether the government is popular. It may well be. Tyranny can be a stepchild of democracy, as Plato knew so well. The insatiable show and assertion of power the BJP is engaged in traps them in a logic where they will seek to create the conditions in which a fair and open contest is no longer possible. Their institutional imagination is paranoid — desperately trying to shut out even the slightest opening from which light might appear. What else but a paranoid system would target small think tanks or civil society organisations that do social service? What else but a paranoid system would appear to politically orchestrate a disqualification of an Opposition MP?And this same paranoia will make the prospect of even risking a fair electoral contest from now on a non-starter. Paranoia is the seed of all repression and we are now seeing it in full measure.Political parties that situate themselves as unique vanguards of a majoritarian national identity find it difficult to relinquish power. In normal politics there are many sides to an argument, and we can all pretend that different sides are acting in good faith even when we disagree. But when the ideological project is singularly communal and wears the garb of nationalism, every dissent is treated as treason. Ideological parties like the BJP will play by the electoral rules when they are not in a position to wield power, or when they feel electorally secure. But once this regime is entrenched, it will think it is its historical destiny to act as a kind of nationalist vanguard, no matter what the circumstances.In its own imagination, this nationalism will justify everything: From playing footloose with the law to outright violence. It has institutionalised vigilantism, violence and hate into the fabric of politics and the state. But this culture is not just difficult to dismantle. It is also part of a preparation to exercise other options in case a purely political hold on power is no longer possible. Parties that have institutionalised structures of violence are less likely to give up power unless they are massively repudiated.But the logic of tyranny goes further. Increasingly, the issue is not just the weaknesses of the Opposition parties. Even in the wake of this disqualification, Congress’s political reflexes, the willingness of its members to risk anything, and its ability to mobilise street power, is seriously in doubt. Opposition unity is still a chimera, more performative at the moment than real.But has the psychology of tyranny now been internalised by enough Indians to make resistance more difficult? India still has the potential for protest on many issues. But what is increasingly in doubt is whether India wishes to resist deepening authoritarianism.To take one example, India’s elites, broadly understood, have gone well past the quotidian fear of those in power. This kind of fear often expresses itself in a gap between public utterances and private beliefs. But what is happening is something far more insidious, where a combination of fear or outright support for government is so deeply internalised that even private demurring from blatantly authoritarian and communal actions has become rare. Ask any victim, who has been the object of the state’s wrath, whether they are at the receiving end of horrendous violence, or targets of administrative or legal harassment. Even the private shows of support will disappear as swiftly as the state intervenes. This suggests either a deep-seated cowardice or a normalisation of authoritarianism.The hallmark of a successful tyranny is to induce a sense of unreality in those who support it. This sense of unreality means no disconfirming evidence can dent their support for the regime. In this world, India has little unemployment, its institutions are fine, it has ascended to the glorious heights of world leadership, it has not ceded any territory to China, and there is no concentration of capital or regulatory capture. But the unreality centres mostly on the lynchpin of this system of tyranny, the prime minister. In his hands, repression becomes an act of purification, his hubris a mark of his ambition, his decimation of institutions a national service.Institutionally and psychologically, we are already inhabiting a tyranny, even if its violence is not in your face. A regime that is paranoid and full of impunity will overreach. But what is the threshold of overreach? The threshold seems to be shifting higher and higher. Communalism was unleashed. No reaction. The information order collapsed. No reaction. The judicial heart stopped beating. No reaction. The Opposition is being vanquished by unfair means. No reaction. Such is the logic of tyranny that the ogres of oppression roam free, while we look on indifferently as justice and freedom are tied in chains.